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Past & Present: Cordeiro Had a Colorful Past

One of the more colorful figures in early Wichita was M.R. “Charlie” Cordeiro, who came to town as a scout for the army and later opened a saloon. His time here was turbulent, starting in 1869 with him killing a man out of self-defense. Later, he operated the Texas Hotel/Saloon/Restaurant, albeit in the face of lawsuits among other challenges. By 1874, his former Texas Saloon had been sold in a sheriff’s sale and by 1875, he was a leading member of a party searching for gold in the Black Hills, where some later reports suggested he was killed by Native Americans.

I had presumed, as did many, that Cordeiro was part of a long Mexican presence in our city. He was known for dressing like the Mexican cowboys who patronized his establishment, with a broad sombrero and crimson sash about his waist. But the census of 1870 lists him as having been born in New York. Moreover, newspapers and genealogical resources suggest that “Cordeiro”—with the spelling ending in “eiro”-- is a Portuguese surname with strong ties to the Azores and Brazil. Whether Charlie had any connections to those places is, as yet, still unknown.

There is a lot more research to be done, especially when census and other records were notoriously inconsistent in name spelling. However, the legal announcements and business advertisements in The Wichita Eagle were very consistent with the Portuguese spelling as opposed to a host of similar names that appeared among Spanish and Mexican families. It is more likely, therefore, that he was not one of Wichita's early Mexican American residents. His story was different, but just as interesting.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.